Following the completion of the first Cotton University training session at Ouagadougou in September 2008, FARM launched a second session in conjunction with HEC, targeted for managers of the African Cotton Producers’ Association (AproCA). The session took place at Ségou, Mali, with some forty managers, elected officials and technical personnel in attendance, representing 13 cotton-producing countries in West and Central Africa whether Francophone, Anglophone or Lusophone. The session was held at CERTIFEX (research and training center for the textile industry) and was opened by Tiémoko Sangaré, Minister of Agriculture for Mali.
The session was led by two HEC professors and seven West African professors from several different institutions : Burkina Faso’s Polytechnic University at Bobo Dioulasso (UPB) ; Senegal’s African Management Training Institute (CESAG) ; the Ivory Coast’s Higher Institute of Business and Management Training (ESCAE), and the Economics department of the University of Bamako. Xavier Beulin, head of the French Federation of Oilseed Producers and vice-president of the FNSEA (French confederation of farmers’ unions), spoke to the group about the experience of French farmers who have been able on one hand to market value-added oilseed products and on the other to develop new markets to ensure the long-term health of their sector. Solidarity and equity among producers has been on of the recurrent themes of these advances.
In a context marked by the severe crisis affecting the cotton sector everywhere, it is critical for African cotton to find ways to increase its productivity while improving the marketing of its products. The five-day training session explored themes linked to strategies for producer organisations and better management of human resources. After decades of treating the farmer as a simple supplier of raw material under the orders of a cotton buying company, the Cotton University is helping to bolster the self-confidence of cotton growers as well as their spirit of entrepreneurship. The University gives growers the tools to make important technical choices (when to sow ? what varieties ? what levels of inputs ?) as well as economic ones (what quality to produce ? for what market ? at what price ?). The program teaches decision-making, autonomy, and becoming a full-fledged actor in the cotton industry and in the cotton economies of Africa. The Cotton University undertaking is aimed at helping realize the goal of AproCA’s president, François Traoré,
"in the past the markets dictated our income and the survival of our farms and cotton companies. We must now act responsibly and take charge of the future of African cotton along with the other involved actors. Nobody will do in for us..."
The training session ended with a ceremony to award certificates to each of the participants. "Now", said a participant from Togo, "we can talk with researchers in our universities on equal footing". Some participants are already planning to meet with State officials in their countries to negotiate a plan to renew their cotton industry.